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American Comic Strips

During their early days comic strips were published exclusively as weekly features in the Sunday supplement of American newspapers. The term "comic strip" in its strictest sense now refers to a syndicated newspaper feature that appears daily in a single row of three or four panels, together with other comic strips that form a page, and is printed in black and white, except on Sunday, when it appears in two to four consecutive rows and is printed in color in the comic section.

Although there is evidence of comic strips appearing in American newspapers as early as 1892, it is the year 1896 that commonly marks the birth of the genre in the American press, with Richard Felton Outcault's The Yellow Kid as its first true representative, appearing in Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. The popularity of The Yellow Kid resulted in an immediate increase in the World 's circulation and paved the way for succeeding comic strips.

Rudolph Dirks, in the Katzenjammer Kids (1897), was the first to make consistent use of a sequence of panels to tell his stories. With the creation of such pioneering strips as Happy Hooligan (1899), by Frederick Burr Opper, Charles ("Bunny") Schultze's Foxy Grandpa (1900), Outcault's Buster Brown (1902), and James Swinnerton's Little Jimmy (1905), all the essential components of the comic strip (e.g., regularity of cast, use of sequence of panels, and speech-balloons) were refined and securely established.

In 1907 Bud Fisher created the first successful daily strip with his Mutt and Jeff. With syndicates distributing plates of their comic features to many newspapers, the characters acquired national readership. The enormous influence of comic strips on the public was first demonstrated by "Buster Brown" fashions early in the 20th cent. It was evidenced later in the century by the proliferation of "Peanuts,""Doonesbury," and "Garfield" products; many comic strip characters have also made the transition to television, film, and the theater via animation or live actors.

Adventure and suspense had been elements of comic strips since Charles W. Kahles's popular strip Hairbreadth Harry (1906), but they appeared in the form of burlesque. In 1924 Roy Crane, with Wash Tubbs (later retitled Captain Easy ), was the first to add these features to a strip in a strictly dramatic format. Some of the earliest examples of this new genre—invariably drawn in a more realistic style than the early "funnies"—were Tim Tyler's Luck (1928), by Lyman Young, Tarzan (1929), first drawn by Harold Foster, and Buck Rogers (1929), by Phil Nowlan and Dick Calkins. These led to such classics as Chester Gould's Dick Tracy (1931), Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates (1934), and Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon (1934), and culminated in the most consciously artistic strip of all, Harold Foster's Prince Valiant (1937).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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